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Published: Sunday, 9/11/2011

Acts of terror altered sports landscape

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Urban Meyer was in his first year as the head football coach at Bowling Green State University when the 9/11 attacks hit the pause button on society, including the sports world. Urban Meyer was in his first year as the head football coach at Bowling Green State University when the 9/11 attacks hit the pause button on society, including the sports world.
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Urban Meyer anxiously scanned an endless blue sky. Not an airplane in sight, and not a single jet trail tracing across that broad, blank canvas.

Standing on an empty practice field outside Doyt Perry Stadium, Mr. Meyer, who had just won his first two games as Bowling Green's head coach in stunning fashion, had no space in his mind for football that day.

Instead, he commented that he felt a powerful urge to be at home with his wife and "just holding my kids."

Sept. 11 hit the pause button for society. All the college football games for that 2001 weekend were canceled, including BGSU's scheduled trip to South Carolina to face one of Meyer's mentors, Gamecocks coach Lou Holtz.

When play resumed the next week, the fans coming through the stadium turnstiles were greeted by a very different way of doing business.

"Everything changed that day," former Toledo coach Tom Amstutz recalled recently. "We understood right away that stadiums could be a target and we would have to adjust how we did things. Once the initial shock wore off, a lot of people went to work making sure the fans would be safe."

Tim Warga, UT's assistant athletic director for operations and events, said a highly coordinated security approach was put in place almost immediately.

"We had to design a new set of guidelines since we were all of a sudden dealing with a very serious potential threat," Mr. Warga said.

"Backpacks were prohibited, and everything was subject to visual searches. There was a different, lengthier process for entering the stadium for a football game, but the fans seemed to understand it was all being done for their benefit and their safety, and they were very receptive to the whole concept."

Mr. Warga said there was a heightened awareness of vehicles moving near the stadium and that the security officials in and around the Glass Bowl took on a more visible profile.

"We were functioning in an environment that not many people had really considered prior to Sept. 11," Mr. Warga said. "The athletic department, the campus police, and everyone associated with staging an event in the stadium came closer together. Every policy was reviewed and information was passed back and forth much more frequently."

Following the attacks, Ohio State did not play its next home game until Oct. 6, but all bags or containers of any kind were banned from inside Ohio Stadium.

A lot of those policies remain in place, with Buckeyes fans prohibited from carrying bags, purses, coolers, and even umbrellas and seat backs into the massive facility that hosts more than 100,000 for every home game.

Michigan played its next game in Ann Arbor just 11 days after the terrorist attacks, and 109,837 showed up to witness a win over Western Michigan -- and get introduced to the post-Sept. 11 atmosphere inside Michigan Stadium. Restrictions very similar to those at Ohio State are in place, with a constant reminder to fans that any change in the national security alert level would bring even more strict screening at the stadium.

Current BGSU coach Dave Clawson was the head coach at Fordham in New York City in 2001, and his sister worked on the 92nd floor in one of the World Trade Center buildings. Fearing the worst, he speed-dialed her repeatedly for three hours that morning, before learning that her train had been late and she was not in the tower when it was hit.

The events of that day gave him a deeper perspective on the value of family.

"Once you have kids, you start realizing that all of these young men are somebody's son, and you have a greater obligation than to just coach them about football," Mr. Clawson said.

Mr. Amstutz called his coaches and players together the night of Sept. 11 to discuss how they would deal with the very uncertain coming days and to take inventory of them emotionally.

"It was surprising how many of them had somebody they knew, some family member or friend, in the New York area," he said. "Every one of us could feel the devastation of that situation, in one way or another."

Today, every NFL team, NBA team, and major league baseball franchise has a security department. College athletic departments and university police forces pool resources and personnel to employ elaborate security plans. The games go on, but the Sept. 11 stamp is ever-present.

"Once we got back to practicing and playing the games, that was good for everybody because it showed that we weren't going to let the terrorists win, we were going to push forward, and get back to normal," Mr. Amstutz said. "But I think everyone knew that Sept. 11 would change us forever. There really wasn't another option."

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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